The only reason I had even considered reading Portnoy's Complaint was due to a recommendation an (albeit anonymous) commenter made way back in 2011 while responding to my The Catcher in the Rye book review. In contrast to movie or music recommendations, with most book recommendations I receive I get I do put them in a list; and hence I do eventually get around to reading them.
And as with most book recommendations I get, I really did love reading Portnoy's Complaint. First of all it was pretty much purely character driven - this was almost by default considering it's written as a monologue - and there was barely any plot to be found. Secondly it's wonderfully written and oh so funny - I don't think any other book has gotten me more bemused stares from passengers on the commute due to my incessant giggling. And thirdly, as a thirty something single Asian guy (or perhaps not?) it was extremely easy to relate to - if not in the detail certainly in the family dynamics Portnoy describes as well as his expertise in being a curmudgeon.
The book was also very rude, but humorously so if such a thing is possible - at the very least it didn't make me cringe or feel uncomfortable like I was with, say, American Psycho or some of the chicklit I've had the pleasure of reading. Although some of it did get pretty graphic, I really don't think it was enough to put anyone off the book - or in any case it's worth taking the hit for anyway.
Anon.786, the commenter who recommended the book to me, actually put it quite well in describing it as Catcher for people of our age group. And like Anon.786 I can't help but recommend it now that I've read it for myself.
Monday, December 30
The only reason I had even considered reading Portnoy's Complaint was due to a recommendation an (albeit anonymous) commenter made way back in 2011 while responding to my The Catcher in the Rye book review. In contrast to movie or music recommendations, with most book recommendations I receive I get I do put them in a list; and hence I do eventually get around to reading them.
Frozen was a funny film - and I don't just mean funny ha ha. I mean on the surface it had all the vital ingredients of a modern Disney film: the cute characters, the songs, the overwhelming FGF and emotional triggers (or that could have just been me being a sap). But on the other hand there was also something missing, something insubstantial about the whole thing.
Take the plot for instance. It happened to be pretty well engineered actually, with many faces and sub adventures, all of which had me guessing and kept things fresh. But this lack of investment in an overwhelming story arc made it all a little shallow too - resulting in a pretty weak ending. The same phenomenon applied elsewhere too, from the characters (all very cute, funny and interesting when considered separately, but not quite gelling together as they should in a Disney flick) to the the music (which I really liked, even though I can't remember any of them now).
Other notes: The film was genuinely, laugh out loud funny and Kristen Bell's voice acting was as awesome as she is. Oh but it may have failed the kids test overall (but what do they know anyway).
Of course an average Disney cartoon is still better than most things out there, so if you're in need of something to watch Frozen is a definite option. It's just a shame it didn't evoke the same kind of magic and poignancy that Tangled did a couple of years ago.
Wednesday, December 25
Like many other Islamic activities Hijama, or cupping, has become a bit of a fashion over the past few years. The idea behind it (essentially of using low pressure to suck out blood via some minor incisions on your skin) is pretty blunt and maybe even a little gross, but the practise is a Sunnah which for many is enough to give it a go.
Our local mosque ran some Hijama sessions today, held by Dr Sheikh Muhammad Zaenal Arifin a local cupping expert whose reputation I had already heard heard about from some friends who had already visited him separately. But more on that later.
The cupping itself was more disconcerting than painful or uncomfortable. It went exactly as expected - horns were used in this session, with an initial (dry) cupping being used to draw blood to the surface, followed by a tirade of incisions by a blade to the prepared surface, after which the horns were reapplied to draw out the blood. Any weirdness I think was due to the unfamiliarity of the set up rather than any physical reason, and I was pretty astonished by the matter which was drawn out (think raspberry jelly and you wouldn't be far off).
As well as the cupping, Dr Arifin's reputation comes from the massage he applies after his Hijama sessions. I had already seen reactions of fully grown men to his touch (which pretty much consisted of lots of shouting in pain), and although that as a challenge itself was something I had convinced myself I wanted to try one day, I didn't realise that was going to be today until saw Dr Arifin apply the cups - by which point it was too late to reconsider my options. Dr Arifin is a small Indonesian chap who instantly reminded me of Mad Dog from The Raid, although I'm not sure if I had made that connection before or after I saw him work, live, on the guy who I had been paired up with.
I like to think that I can endure most kinds of everyday physical pain. Sure, I have no problem expressing that endurance with (lots of) noise and (lots of) flailing of limbs, but I'd never walk away from something which I knew was going to pass eventually. And although today's "massage" (yes, with quotes) was very painful and perhaps the most localised, deliberate and intense activity I've ever partaken in, it wasn't unbearable - I think a great component of my own reaction was due in the main to the stories I had heard and not knowing what would happen... I would imagine the second and subsequent goes would be a more tolerable experience for all the first timers today.
But what about the after effects of the today's treatment? If I'm totally honest, I don't think I'm entirely convinced that Hijama is for me as a regular preventative medical practise. I may have felt a bit looser and lighter, but that could equally have just been my imagination too. However Dr Arifin did suggest some lifestyle changes I could make in my life based on what he saw in the blood I had let, as well as what he felt while massaging - all very sensible and relevant so I will try to take those on board. The massage was more of a novel experience and challenge than a treatment, and I'm glad I did it for the experience.
Dr Arifin and his associates currently run sessions in Ilford and a clinic Forest Gate - if anyone is interested in cupping or their other services than please let me know.
Monday, December 23
Dhoom 3 really is a film that has everything. From the Stomp-like opening to Katrina's striptease midway and some astonishing height sizes throughout it's pretty clear that D3 covers all the bases any discerning Bollywood moviegoer would want.
It's not that Dhoom 3 is a particularly bad film - any Bollywood moviegoer would be well prepared in advance for that - it's the manner in which it contradicts itself which makes it quite hard to enjoy. Some rather shoddy special effects, a random striptease by a pretty redundant Katrina (which, admittedly, I probably would have paid the ticket price alone for) to an interesting back story that manifests itself as garbage in the narrative and even the astonishing disparity in actor heights throughout just made the whole film, well, jar a bit. It's a shame because if any franchise has proven how the adding up of parts might not matter it's Dhoom, so I can't help but feel that this flick was a loser by design.
What's really surprising (or perhaps not) is how amazing Aamir Khan was in it - I wondered more than once why the heck he had ever put his name and sheer talent to such a film. Unfortunately it's not worth sitting through even for his stellar performance and you really should wait for the DVD to watch this one.
Sunday, December 22
There's something about Pakistan that makes me sleepy, all the way till we arrive at Heathrow. I could blame the weather, or the attitude, or how I have nothing much to do there except sleep, but I think it's more than that - possibly something about finally being able to relapse to the true state of being a relaxed and lazy so an so.
Although I am always able to easily return after two weeks in Karachi, there has been a slight change in my approach to Pakistan in this trip, including the desire to now go back more often. Linked with the disaffection I've begun to have toward travel in general (I noticed that I, quite gladly, had no real "tourist" holiday in 2013) I think that works quite well and suspect I'll be returning to Karachi sooner rather than later.
But for now I return to the UK and real life, and thus the rehabilitation of my sleep patterns, diet and the soles of my feet can begin.
Friday, December 20
Having your own driver while shopping.
Riding pillion from Federal B all the way to Clifton and back.
The view from the rear facing seat of an extra large rickshaw.
The risk of death while playing chicken at almost every intersection you need to take.
Having to flush your nasal cavity each time you take a journey through the Karachi smog.
The oh so ugly:
Having to sit on a wet seat on a Kala-peela Taxi.
Tuesday, December 17
Maybe it's just mine but Pakistani society appears to have a very organised familial structure and formalisation of heritage. You have the usual and expected sub-continent patriarchy and attitudes toward progeny and communality, but as I get older and become more aware of deeper behaviours I've noticed family names, houses, lines, relationships, allegiances and sometimes even politics and power struggles.
Marriages have bearings on ties and inheritance as houses are joined and changed. Sometimes marriages are kept within lines to influence this. Some houses are great, and some not so great, but all have their characters, personality, history and are utterly fascinating. There are no shields or sigils though which I think is a shame.
And not that I would ever confirm having done so myself, but if you look closely you might even spot the Starks, Baratheons and Lannisters too.
Sunday, December 8
If three years is a long time after which to return to Karachi, the 20 odd it's been since I last visited Hyderabad must be an epoch - and the even longer time I've been away from Tando Adam an eternity. The trend for relatives to relocate over the past couple of decades has reduced the reasons to go back - until now anyway. Memories of those past visits still remain vivid in my mind though, from the intercity bus trips to the way in which we oh so care-freely hung out with our cousins during our extended summer stays.
Hyderabad is more "Sindhi" than Karachi, but aside from that the Hyderabad I knew doesn't exist any more. Which is probably why our trips there now last a day and not the weeks it used to. We were back (and happy) in Karachi pretty early in the evening.
Saturday, December 7
Time flows very strangely in a place you repeatedly visit over many years.
Three years is an odd amount of time after which to return to Karachi. On the one hand, it's not enough time for a lot to have changed much - the beloved Jinnah International and its immigration was was still the same, as were the all embracing golden arches waiting for us outside. the Karachi weather, traffic and people were all the same, including my relatives who, in their adulthood, all appeared more or less the same as they did the last time I saw them.
But look more closely and things have changed. We have new flyovers, new laws (oh my gosh, guys can finally ride pillion again), new technology (WhatsApp on iPhones? Jeez) and, of course, new babies. And in this particular revisit way too many missing faces too (which is the main reason we have decided to come).
I do usually visit more often (at least once every two years), but I missed a trip earlier this year so despite the circumstances I am glad that we made the decision to come. I do love Karachi and after day one I am still excited to be here and even a little bit disbelieving that I am too.
Monday, December 2
It's not often that a film does a book justice. On the other hand, considering what I thought about the trilogy overall it would have been a very dire set of films to be worse than the books in this case - and the fact that I've come back to watch the second part kinda implies that I'm rather enjoying the adaptation this time around.
But it is a jolly good romp - the whole premise lends itself pretty well to film I think, with more of a focus able to be made on the visual side of things (because let's face it, the book is pretty shallow otherwise). Jennifer Lawrence is still good despite what I see as a lesser role and all in all the film is well put together; I even hated the Capital by the end of it.
Unlike the first film (and indeed, book), Catching Fire clearly leaves the door open for the final part (or rather, parts, seeing as the last book has, surprise surprise, been split into two films. Groan), so expect to be left hanging by the end. Otherwise if you like the first one you will this. Recommended
Wednesday, November 27
Today's ASW works on so many levels. First the obvious - about how we're becoming a global nation obsessed with freaking sharing anything we can take a freaking picture of. Since a pictures paint a thousand words that's a lot of bullpoop being spoken, and I honestly believe that digital photography is a curse of casual society now:
But the second point is about how we seem to want to save this bullpoop for posterity. I'm always amazed at exactly how much data can literally fit into a chip the size of my fingertip, but that really doesn't mean we should. People look at me funny when I delete 60-70% of the pictures I take on holiday - but for me the comic title (mouseover to see) says it all really.
Thursday, November 21
Book two of "The Wheel of Time" done and I find myself becoming more and more drawn into the world being spun by Robert Jordan. In terms of progression a lot happens in this book, some explicit but a lot implied, and after two volumes I'm beginning to find myself being able to understand the writing style and where book is trying to lead those reading it. Unlike ASOIAF, WOT is very much young adult reading and so the annoying and angsty style is by design.
But despite being young adult, it remains pretty readable and accessible and as a result quite enjoyable. Once again there's the feeling of a much longer game than just what we read in each book; and I can already imagine the writing developing along with the characters and plot.
Wednesday, November 20
There are times when I love cinema. After Monday's pleasantly surprising viewing I was especially looking forward to catching Gravity today - a film I had heard nothing but good about - to complete a week of amazing movies. I was a bit disappointed that we were forced to watch it in 3D (as the push to make audiences embrace the format increases), but I figured that at 90 minutes it wouldn't hurt the film too much.
And it turned out that I was actually glad we had been made to watch it in 3D after all - not only was it not as irritating, but I genuinely felt that it made an already great film better. This was finally an example of 3D adding to the enjoyment of a film instead of annoying the heck out of me. In fact it would have actually been interesting to see if the film would have been as good in 2D. No, I can't believe I'm saying this either.
3D aside, it was refreshing to watch a film so focussed and well paced - the 90 minutes felt like much more - and it's not often I feel sympathetic for characters on the big screen. Yes, Clooney is a little annoying, but Bullock took me way back to her Speed days (which is a good thing).
I'm guessing most have already watched, but if not please add my voice to the many who recommend Gravity.
Monday, November 18
There comes a point where a person begins to doubt even their own integrity. I mean I'm pretty sure I was looking forward to this film because it looked great in the trailer and had some interesting music... and not because of who it happened to star. But hey, by definition we all gain initial interest in a subject for shallow reasons, and Deepika Padukone is as good a reason as any I suppose.
But it's all good, because Ram Leela was actually really good. It looked great, played great, managed to balance tragedy with comedy and, yes, had great music too. There wasn't much to fault with the film apart from some particularly disappointingly dodgy touching and feeling and some gaping holes in the plot but anyone who has been watching Bollywood for a while should be able to ignore those anyway.
The film was long, but didn't feel so, and although I enjoyed watching it on the big screen I don't think it would lose its effect too much in a home viewing. Very much recommended.
Wednesday, November 13
Tuesday, November 12
Monday, November 11
To be honest I found it difficult becoming enthusiastic over a film about Somali pirates - a "true story" at that. I mean sure, I guess piracy has a certain exciting air around it but this was not exactly going to be a Jack Sparrow affair. But still, some rave reviews from the press and friends alike convinced me to give it a try.
And I'm half glad that I did. Captain Phillips wasn't a brilliant film, but it was a very solid effort - a good example of a movie that stuck to the basics, avoided any gimmicks and delivered.
Notable flaws include an excessive use of camera shake (surely I'm not the only one who gets a headache with this?) and an over-long and over-played finale (complete with good ol' Hanks' trademark overacting), but these weren't enough to wreck the film.
If you're looking for something that is neither your typical shallow movie fare or over exposed arthouse flick, than you could do worse.
Sunday, November 3
Although I'm generally quite proud of my cynicism, there are rare times when it tends to bite me in the bum. Take this week for instance, when I totally snubbed MOCAfest even though it was a stone's throw away from work. I'm told that it was rather good, but my avoidance of most events with "Muslim", "Islam" or "Global Peace and Unity" in the name (or variants thereof) took precedence and I dismissed it quite easily.
But that's all as an aside really, as the real reason I attended the event today was because it was hosted by Rumi's Cave. I won't dwell on what that actually means (you know, to maintain some level of elitist snobbery) only to say I just checked my blog and it appears that 2009 was the last Rebel Muzic event I attended. Man, that was a long time ago.
Of course it's bordering on a cliché if I was to tell everyone how awesome the event was, but I will anyway. I'm ashamed to say I don't fully remember the full lineup, but according to the flyer we had amongst the artists Jamal Raslan, Mark Gonzales, Tasleem Jamila, Native Sun and Asif Sinan - all enjoyed by a pretty intimate crowd of around 100 people.
Don't worry: I hadn't heard of any of them either (with the exception of Native Sun I guess), but each were amazing and wonderful to see and hear. The live music was ace (as it always is), but for me I would probably say that tonight was one of the most effective demonstrations of Spoken Word that I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. We're talking multi-layered, critical, non-judgemental yet beautifully accessible messages here, covering all sorts of topics from religion, prejudice, the environment and just life and how to live it as a nice person. And since I wasn't totally annoyed by the whole thing it can't have been too hippy either.
Honestly, I listened to stuff that had more value and sheer smarts than I hear during my day job attempting to play the professional. And as arrogant and awful as it sounds I immediately felt sorry for all those who thought that Eid in the Wharf (also this week) was a decent injection of culture into their lives.
So yes, a brilliant night out and one that makes me long for the days of Rebel Muzik.
Friday, October 25
The pursuit of happiness makes life shallow
I've read this article a few times and still don't know if I agree or disagree. On the one hand I genuinely think having a stress free and peaceful life is the way to go and I'm always thankful how easy it is for me to achieve those things. On the other hand my best times do (and I hope, will) include those I spend fulfilling duties towards others - I especially relate to Penelope's point about choosing to have kids even though they technically don't bring happiness (don't fool yourselves, they don't).
But on the third hand still, I always cringe at how so many of my peers and colleagues seem to find this meaning through their careers - most will agree with the article in that sense I think. Of course that just means what we already know: that these things are subjective and what gives one person meaning may not provide anything to another. But in the hierarchy of things we can spend our time on I do think that some things can be more objectively meaningful than others (taking care of your family over evil banking for example) and I do think that that landscape is changing for the worse. Perhaps "meaning" has now just become a commodity that is conditioned, cultivated and marketed to us.
Thanks to Farah for the link. Oh and yes, I still love Penelope Trunk.
Thursday, October 24
Sometimes the best kept secrets really are in plain sight. Take this, a greasy little cafe right in the busiest part of Bishopsgate. Of all the years I've visited and even worked in the area I have never before even noticed the place.
Which sucks, because it really is a neat little gem. Okay, there's not much for those with restrictive halal diets, but the fish and veg options are pretty good (what can possible top a smoked salmon sandwich? Why, a fish finger sandwich, that's what), the service decent and the vibe top notch. It a great place to catch up with friends - there's not much to distract you from the company you're with.
And most surprisingly it wasn't even unreasonable value, with two sandwiches, drinks and a shared dessert all coming to £12.25 which is pretty unbeatable in my book. Totally recommended.
Tuesday, October 22
Urgh. There are some things I do, and some places I go, which make me wonder if anything ever changes and if humans as a species are actually progressing. Temple Lounge is one of these places. It really was like being back in the late-ninties-slash-early-noughties, with that particular blend of lowered brows and bad service that would only ever be tolerated by brown people who don't actually know better (or rather want to appear grown up by paying twenty quid to puff on a shisha pipe).
Okay fine: the food was alright and there were a few pretty young girls there if that's your thing (I'm guessing from QMW or Westminster - you know the type), but to be honest I'm just grasping at straws mentioning these things because I'd feel too bad giving the place a complete rinsing. Oh and yes, the place was way too expensive for what it was. Two hour limits? Cash only? I'd laugh if I wasn't cringing so badly.
Cheap, insubstantial and oh-so-tacky, I guess you could go here for a gag or a dare or just to remind ourselves that we can't take the more decent places for granted. Otherwise do yourself a favour and avoid.
Friday, October 18
Monday, October 14
Wednesday, October 9
It was a random woman in the T-Mobile shop who recommended I read this. "It's so much better than the Game of Thrones books I see you reading" she said. Of course I discarded her advice as the rantings of a madwoman at first, but once I googled it I began to realise that the Wheel of Time books were actually quite epic - and due to finish this year. The idea of embarking on 14 volumes of 6-800 page books was quite thrilling too - this will probably keep me occupied for the next few years at least, I thought, and that kind of investment in a book was exciting.
So here I am at the end of the first volume, The Eye of the World, with mixed feelings. The good first then: there is tons of potential here with the huge map, the wonderful mythology and a plot you just know is being set up for the long game. It's just a shame that the whole thing was a little flat: in characterisation, characters themselves and drama. I hate to break it to the lady who introduced me to it but Games of Thrones this ain't, and I've yet to have my breath taken away in the same way ASOIAF did.
But it is good enough to have me hanging on and who knows: maybe the real reward does indeed lie in the long haul. I look forward to finding that out - the best thing about the series is that I won't have to wait to progress in it.
Thursday, October 3
Monday, September 30
On this, our last day in Paris, we really only had one plan to execute - and that is to see the Mona Lisa. We got to the Louvre later than I would have liked, but in a reasonable time considering the circumstances. Getting into the glass pyramid itself wasn't that long a wait, but buying tickets was frustratingly slow; even more so after we found self service machines with no queues afterwards.
But in we got and straight to the Mona Lisa we headed. And, erm, there she was. Now I'm not really an art lover (even though there have been some examples which I have strongly liked) so perhaps my reaction was to be expected, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I wasn't the only one there that day who had been massively underwhelmed. My theory is that the Mona Lisa is like other items of artificial self-fuelling desire, like designer handbags or reality shows: it's actually only famous because it's famous? But anyway I actually found the crowd much more interesting as they (well, we) all jostled for the best position in which to take pictures and selfies. I was a bit surprised that cameras were allowed at all, but apparently that's a recent policy change. I think it's a shame that most people only saw the art through their phones, but I guess that's where we are now - some orderly queues would have been nice though.
The Louvre is pretty huge (I'm not sure I have ever visited a bigger museum) and so we established and stuck to the priorities - they being Egypt and Islam. Those alone took us a fair few hours and we managed to get out of the Louvre well past lunchtime. My plan was to also visit the Orsay, but that is closed Monday which kind of sucked and shows exactly how much planning I had put into this weekend. I guess I'll have to come back for that one.
So instead we all leisurely walked up Jardin des Tuileries toward the Obelisk, which pretty much ended our tourist trail. We headed back to the apartment for the final time to pick up our luggage, and then on to Gare du Nord to catch our train back. Although the weekend was short I did think it was really good, and it was nice to revisit Paris after almost thirty years. Of course I won't be going back any time soon... but at least I know that if I did, I'd know my way around a bit.
Sunday, September 29
Today was all about ticking things off. We started off with the Arc de Triomphe, which we not-so-comfortably managed to squeeze in before our scheduled entry to the Eiffel Tower (which, by the way, I thoroughly recommend all visitors doing). We then hung out in Champ de Mars for lunch and a doss after which we made our way to Notre Dame. Forgive me for glossing over the details, but in short everything was very pretty and full of history.
After stopping off for ice cream we made our way back home to have a small rest before... heading back out to see the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower again, but at night. Perhaps it's because I'm no longer used to travelling with family but I found the whole thing pretty strange and amusing. But I have to admit it was nice to walk around after hours too.
By this time we had gotten pretty used to the metro system of Paris, although we had spent a lot of time yesterday trying to figure out the most cost effective and flexible way to buy tickets. It turns out that the book of singles (similar to the carnets we used to have on the London Underground) were a clear winner - very much so than the "value" travelcards they were punting to tourists.
Saturday, September 28
Around a decade ago I made a promise to myself, that I would never go to Paris unless it was in a romantic context. Yes, it's a lame condition but I like to think it was qualified by how a) I had already been (albeit as a five year old) and b) it's not the most inaccessible of places for a Londoner to visit so could be done at any time. And so I spent the time since declining various trips and outings I had been invited on, the most regretful of which being the bros' Mosque-Crawl-cum-Before-Sunset-Reenactment-no-homo of Ramadhan 2009.
But ten years is a long time and all plans have an expiry date. And so I found myself booking a late ticket to join an already planned family trip to Paris.
I have to say that the Eurostar is pretty impressive. Yes, we all know the theory, but to get on a train and arrive in the capital of another country is something very novel for those who live on an island like Great Britain. It's amazingly convenient and also quite striking to realise how close Europe is.
After settling into the cosy apartment, we immediately headed out to get started on the sightseeing. Sacre Coeur has always been vividly locked in my memories for some reason so I was especially poignant as we approached the, in my opinion, stunning church at the top of the butte Montmartre. I always become dismayed when I hear of people who leave Sacre Coeur off of their tourist itineraries, and a part of me was glad that we only had the one item on our own list this afternoon - there would be no rushing through here.
My cousin and I decided to walk home from there, which was a nice and efficient way to soak in the city with the small amount of time we had. It didn't take long - around an hour - but we got to visit street markets, take in some local architecture and generally hang out with the locals.
It was great to have my suspicion of Paris having so many halal places to eat too - not that it mattered of course as we had brought our own food from home. Naturally.
Sunday, September 22
And there you have it - the last day in Krakow and thus Poland. Today was reserved for Krakow proper, and it was great to find a free walking tour here as you would in many other places these days. At almost three hours long it was a bit of a slog, but well worth it as pretty much all the interesting bits of Krakow was covered. The Jewish Quarter however was omitted, but that was okay as it was on the way to the station anyway - stopping off for a quick look and grabbing a zapiekanki while there (and really, that alone was worth the detour).
But time wise the day had been killed; so much so that the train back to Warsaw was almost missed (which is more fun than it sounds). In hindsight I should have flown directly back to London from Krakow, but then I suppose the three hour journey back didn't change much really.
And before I knew it I was back in Warsaw and back at the airport to catch my flight back home. Poland may never have been on any travel list of mine but I have to say I'm glad I had the chance to go - the trip, and Poland itself, turned out to be pleasantly surprising and exceeded all expectations I had.
Saturday, September 21
So the weekend and finally the chance to be 100% a tourist. And how easy it was too - unlike Warsaw, Krakow appears to be built for tourists with a lot to see and do and plenty of others who had come directly from abroad to do it.
Today was to be pretty packed, with a tour selected that would pack as much stuff in as possible (albeit with sights all outside of Krakow proper). The first stop was Auschwitz which probably doesn't require any introduction except for me to admit that I didn't actually know it was near Krakow until I had to come here. It was both as expected and surprising - as cliched as it sounds things really do become more material and... real once you actually see where it happened. It was all pretty sad.
The second part of the afternoon was spent visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines (but not before enjoying some Polish ice cream of course). As interesting as the mines were I have to admit having been slightly underwhelmed overall. That's not to take away anything from the attraction itself; I guess I've finally been desensitised to mines and caves.
The tour ended early enough to catch a nice dinner in a boutique restaurant back in Krakow old town. You'll be glad to hear that I didn't have dumplings - but even though the food tonight was much fancier I was still surprised by the bill. For you foodies out there: food in Poland is very cheap. Go nuts.
Friday, September 20
Blah blah, I can't miss jummah wherever I am, blah blah. I don't think I ever expected attending jummah to be a problem in the capital of Poland, but it didn't go as smoothly as I was hoping it would. Okay, so the mosque was a 20 minute taxi from the office, but the thing that really screwed me over was that it started at 2pm, two hours after the start of Zhur. So of course I had got there way too early which kinda sucked. But the jummah itself was as expected - an Arabic khutba with Polish synopsis - and it was nice to see a packed mosque for the congregational prayer.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, mainly around the catching of a train to Krakov. It turns out the train was a far superior choice to renting a car, being both cheaper, faster and more comfortable to travel in. That said it did pull into Krakov pretty late and taxi drivers from the station to the hotel did have a tendency to rip off their customers that evening (here's a tip: make sure the meter is running)... but overall I do heartily recommend the train for intercity travel anyway.
Thursday, September 19
Of course it takes much longer to actually genuinely become "native" but I think there comes a point when living in a city that a tourist stops becoming a stranger. That seemed to have happened to me today, as maps were left at home, senses of direction and purpose established and places off the beaten path were explored.
I don't think many tourists get to visit the local university (with echoes of Seville ringing in my head), but the crown jewel today was tea at Same Fusy, an intimate little tea house-cum-cavern in the old town.
I'm a little sad that tonight is my last night actually. On the other hand, I think I've done as much as I would like to in Warsaw.
Wednesday, September 18
Today I had the opportunity to check out what is probably the biggest attraction in Warsaw: The Old Town. I have to say that this was pretty much the same as other old towns, with the architecture, history and vibe being the majority pull over any single monument in particular.
I was nice to have non-work related exposure to Warsaw, and I think I've pretty much concluded that the city is safe and clean (which is quite the novelty for someone who has lived in London all his life), and the people much more nice and friendly than I am ashamed to say I expected.
Dinner was dumplings, topped up by a quiche. I suspect a pattern forming here.
Tuesday, September 17
A very rainy evening forced me and a friend to take shelter at a random restaurant in a random part of Warsaw. Little did I know that this turn of events would lead me to discovering the best bit about Warsaw so far: Dumplings. As is well known, I'm not really a foodie, so I can't really describe what kind of dumplings they were, but they were pretty amazing, in both taste and texture, and better still the filled me up. So good.
Sunday, September 15
So here's the thing - I've never actually been on a business trip before. I guess the closest commercial and non-holiday time I've had away from home was Bristol a few years ago, but even that was a bit of a doss rather than having to actually go into an office daily. I think many will know (or guess) that the idea of travelling alone for work doesn't particularly appeal, and if I'm brutally honest Poland has never really ever been on my travel list.
I got in quite late tonight and although I took a quick walk around the area I stuck to the hotel restaurant for dinner. I gotta say it was pretty neat expensing stuff, but apart from that heady height of the day I don't have much to write about now.
You probably shouldn't expect daily posts.
Wednesday, September 11
Well isn't this a little gem? For a start, there's already something irresistible about pies (probably the butter), but add a decent and clean place to eat them in, some great service and the convenience of having a mosque across the road and you end up with a pretty solid experience. The food itself was generous (even though I wolfed it down pretty quickly) with each pie coming with a choice of two sides and gravy.
And it wasn't even hard on the pocket: £5.50 got you a "special" pie with sides. Amazing value for some amazing food. Very much recommended.
Friday, August 23
I just spent a few minutes reading my previous anniversary posts, only to realise that I had already said most things that were relevant to the current state of my blog. On the bright side, at least that means I'm stable, rather than in decline.
As RSS dies out and FB becomes the entry point to the Internet for most people, I do often wonder how long exactly I will be writing here. Of course there's not really much effort required in keeping it trickling on, but the fact that I'm actually writing this on the 26th says a lot.
There is of course some vindication here - the volume of writing here went down well before readership, which backs up something I've always maintained about how I write for myself first and foremost. That said, it is nice when a friend who I haven't seen for ages tells me in person that they agreed with a restaurant review of mine I wrote. It's nice to relevant, no matter how rare that is.
And of course there's the big 10 year anniversary post next year. I definitely couldn't leave without writing that. Till then, I guess, and thanks for reading!
Monday, August 19
Even though it seriously pains me to admit it, there was only one reason I really even considered watching this film. And yes, in that respect it certainly paid off, but the added bonus is that I had already managed my own expectations before sitting down. And as such I'm not even that upset that it sucked so bad.
The real shame was that Chennai Express actually started out half decently; in fact it was rather good while the action took place on the train after which the film was named. But then something went seriously wrong, resulting in some seriously stinky WTF moments... one which even involved a small person and another that involved diesel smuggling. Bizarre.
The film was funnier than it really had a right to be, and in my objective and unbiased opinion Deepika did manage to perform pretty well (and I loved her South Indian accent), good enough to validate my opinion of her place in Bollywood anyway.
But still, there's no way I can recommend Chennai Express while keeping my integrity intact. Which is a shame because the potential was definitely there.
Saturday, August 10
I like to think I'm quite technically apt. I also like to think I'm more flexible when it comes to technology too, although I will admit that as I get older I demonstrate more of the whole "if it ain't broke" attitude. But after three or so months with Google+ comments enabled here I've decided to turn them off. I just don't understand how they work.
Firstly, I get no notifications. This one seems to appear a lot on Google searches, so it seems I'm not the only one with the issue (or misunderstanding of how they work). The bottom line is that I don't get any; and this has caused miscommunication between my friends and me at least twice now. It's pretty unforgivable, and more so if it's by design.
There is also no way to list all comments by time like you could with The Old Way, and users need a Google account to leave comments - which means no nicknames or anonymity. No moderation isn't really a big deal for me, but I have had to remove comments in the past so I guess that is a useful feature to have lost with Google+ too.
So yes pretty dire, and although I'm happy to accept that it's me (any my distaste of "social" features) and not them, I am equally happy to turn them off.
I just checked and it appears that existing Google+ comments are removed when I disable. They come back when I reactivate, but in the meantime for posterity I've gone through all my posts up to the beginning of the year and copied any Google+ comments into the posts themselves - something that was mercifully a small task thanks to the lack of many. If there are any comments that I might have missed which you'd like to still see, let me know and I'll extract them in the same way.
Sunday, August 4
Thursday, July 4
Although I used to love reading as a child, there was a time when I, well, kind of grew out of it. Blame TV or videogames (smartphones didn't exist back then), but I just didn't seem to find reading interesting. But then I arrived in university and met lots of people, most of whom were smarter than me in that they had managed to hold on to their love of books. It was the exposure to these friends that renewed my own interest in books; and Perdido Street Station was one of the first books that I read during this renewal.
Which is probably why I hold it in such high esteem - if you had asked me in the past decade what my favourite book was, I would have cited this. It was magical, deep, tragic, adventurous and full of character - I didn't even mind the weird steam punk side of things here. I've been gagging to read and enjoy it again, and so now, over a decade later, I am.
And I have to be honest here - the second reading wasn't as great as the first. It's not a mediocre book by any measure... it's just not the perfect story I thought I had read. Where had all the imagination gone? What about the deep characterisation that I used think was the main influence in building my appreciation for that quality in other books? It just wasn't there.
All of course which goes to show that Perdido is by no means a classic book. It's good, like most books, for one reading, and perhaps if I had been more mature in reading I would have realised that the first time around? Of course it's still a special book for me personally as it essentially opened the door to me reading man more books (some better and some worse than Perdido), but sadly I do think that this'll be the last time I'll be reading it.
Wednesday, July 3
I'm just going to say it: I think Seth Rogen is losing it a little. Not him as an individual, but as a genre. I think he realises this too; there's very few reasons to play yourself as a cameo let alone in a whole film, and they're all to do with rejuvenation.
Hollywood philosophy aside This Is the End was funny enough to make a decent timepass, with the second half much funnier than the first. It had all the underpinnings of the genre - a loose plot, a moral lesson, a couple of overgross gags - and I didn't leave the cinema feeling it was a waste of time like I have other films of its ilk.
But still, I don't think there's any benefit to watching this on the big screen so if I do give it a recommendation it would be to catch it at home.
Tuesday, July 2
Although the fun with Chicks On Fire starts with the name, it follows on all the way to the place, the menu, the proprietor, chef and eventually the food. It's all so happy and feel good, you begin to wonder if the place is on drugs. What we do have here is the simple concept of grilled chicken modified with various sauces and marinades (think gourmet Nando's), and after finishing my meal it was clear it was a winning formula.
The starters were interesting enough (I've never had a smear of humous before) but the main event was the chicken - I actually had a burger (which, was more of a very generous sandwich) and a quarter piece and all were very tasty and very spicy - there was no need for any additional sauces to top up the taste here.
So not much to complain about really - perhaps the bench seating was a little uncomfortable? I can't give an accurate indication of the price but I think it was all under a tenner per head which is great value in anyone's book. Recommended.
Monday, July 1
I have to say I did find it odd heading to a Holiday Inn to grab dinner. I mean what could we ever expect? Sandwiches? Eggs on toast?
But on entering I have to say I was relatively surprised: this was a clean and well presented restaurant and appeared in better shape than most places I've eaten at. Unfortunately that impression quickly faded once we got our food - we were essentially eating prepared ready meals, albeit pretty good ready meals.
But where 2012 really failed was with the service. Mistakes happen all the time, but it's how they are dealt with that matters. So when my Muslim friend went to great lengths to convince our server, his manger and the chef that the vegetable lasagne they received was full of beef mince we knew the place had lost any credibility it had.
The only saving grace was the cost - at around 8 quid per head for a main and drink using a Gourmet Card the price was nothing to complain about. Everything else, unfortunately, had lots.
Monday, June 24
Apparently there's a book that this film is based on, but has totally trounced over. Personally I'm glad that I've never read it, because I thought the film was actually really good. A very old looking Brad Pitt does a good job leading us across the world (on a possibly wasted journey) while he investigates the cause of the outbreak in question.
It's a bit episodic and possibly video-game-levelish, and as such it does feel a little middle heavy and perhaps even anti-climatic. But it's certainly a lot of fun throughout and there aren't any times I remember when I was bored.
A good solid time-pass. Recommended.
Friday, June 21
Wednesday, June 19
Oh my, what a train wreck this film was. It was too long, too boring and too stingy with the payoff, and so... normal it felt like a waste of an Orange Wednesday voucher.
I think my main issue is with the identity crisis the film goes through. It just doesn't know what it wants to be - apart from different from other Supermen perhaps. The trouble is that it seems to have gone a little too far. Okay, the disdain for shaky-cam and super-zoom might be just my personal gripe, but if I wanted to watch a apocalyptic sci-fi disaster movie I would have picked one. And really, don't get me started on the dodgy editing. Here's a tip, movie makers: explicit will always trump implied action.
I've heard some reviews make that now typical and elitist justification for bad re-imaginings like this, that only real fans will "get it". Well perhaps I'm not a real fan, but I'm hardly a Batman or Marvel expert either that didn't stop me from enjoying The Dark Knight or The Avengers multiple times. I see niche appeal as a flaw, not a strength, and if you need some kind of affinity with a subject to enjoy a film I don't see that as a good thing.
So no, no recommendations here. Perhaps it's one to wait for the DVD of; just skip to chapter 10 or so and you might just get to see a decent superhero movie.
EDIT: for those of you who have seen this film and enjoyed it as much as I did, here's a link you might enjoy.
Monday, June 17
And here it is, my final day in Dubai. And I am sad.
Of course with the wedding over today was pretty much left to just doss. And so it was, with us visiting the bride, grabbing a burger at a mall and listening to music while driving through the highways of Dubai. Good times that. Oh and of course I had to say fond farewells to friends both new and old. Multiple times, naturally. After a quick dinner at home I headed to the airport, and that was that - my spontaneous stint in Dubai was over.
As I write this I realise that I do indeed go to Dubai for exactly the same reasons as those I called out in my post four days ago: in order to experience a crossing of cultures. But it is the crossing of cultures of the people that they effortlessly create within their homes and themselves that I love rather than that of fancy glossy malls next to mosques and Halal KFC (and yes, yes, I realise there's a definite correlation there). It's something that I don't really see in London too often if at all, and quite likely something that counts as evidence to my own identity issues.
So in a nutshell: Dubai offers good, clean, simple and wholesome fun, something which seems way too difficult to achieve over here.
Sunday, June 16
Okay I admit it - the main reason I ate here was because it's as close as I'm going to get to having a restaurant named after me. But egotistical decision making aside, it did turn out to be a relatively good choice with some pretty decent burger and fries accompanying a solid milkshake and pretty heavenly red velvet ice cream dessert. My only criticisms are that it was a bit on the small side - in hindsight I should have just gone for the double - and maybe a little unexciting in terms of taste. I'm also not sure how much it all cost exactly but I suspect it wasn't as budget as the McDonald's next door.
But it wasn't bad at all, and I'll definitely be checking out the new branch opening soon in my own home town (halal permitting of course).
So yes, I've totally given up on having any kind of morning during my stay here. On the bright side today apparently has much less to prepare for than last night. After picking up some flowers from a shop accompanying a mandir (the place to get flowers from apparently), we made our way to the venue.
Most of the afternoon was spent hanging out with the bridal party while everyone got ready, joking around and watching the Disney Channel. The wedding itself was great: simple yet elegant and beautiful - pretty much like the host family. And poignant - both for the typical wedding reasons of a bride leaving her home but also for the fact that the reason I had even come to Dubai was coming to an end.
Amazingly we managed to break all records and finally sit to eat at around three, the hall being dismantled around us while we dined. It was great.
And the night didn't end before delivering another first for me - Halal MacDonald's at 3:45am. As my friend-cum-babysitter said to me, this was as close to clubbing as it was going to get for us.
Saturday, June 15
I have a feeling that the late end last night will set the pace of the holiday these next few days - it wasn't even an official wedding event or anything.
After just about getting up for Jummah, we headed off to the venue for tonight's mehndi. I really want to say I went to help but it was just more chilling and dossing for me really - still, it was nice to be involved.
The mehndi itself was bags of fun, and I'm shocked by how late events can run here. It was all (and I'm including my flight fare in that too) worth it for the dancing though. There were four tracks from Yeh Jeewani Hai Deewani for heaven's sake.
Oh and I'm sure you can all guess by now what the soundtrack of this holiday was for me.
Friday, June 14
It's not like I totally hate Dubai but I definitely don't understand why so many people come here for holidays. I guess Sun, sand and halal McDonald's just isn't quite enough for me. I can see why the whole crossing of cultures appeals - even though I not so secretly see that as a clichéd manifestation of identity crises.
And yet this marks the third time that I've visited here. I managed to pretty much exhaust the tourist trail on my first visit, and so it's quite telling that two out of the three visits have been so I can attend weddings. You see the thing is that although I don't feel Dubai as a geographical place, I (and I say this without reservation) love the people here - and as I found out almost a decade ago weddings are a wonderful, brilliant way to hang out with them.
So even though it was massively fun on this, my first day here, it was kind of expected that I would hang in parlours while ladies got their make-up tested, learn to sew sequins on a dupatta, be taught dance steps to Balam Pichkari and end up driving almost the height of Dubai at 3am in a tank of a 4x4 that passes as normal in these parts. This is why I came.
The truth is that I had only decided to come less than a week ago, and that only after the invite had literally dropped through my letterbox. I still don't quite believe that I left work on Wednesday to take the night flight that got me here this morning.
And already it's a decision I'm utterly glad to have made. Spontaneity rocks - who knew?
Saturday, June 8
In a time when chicken shops have become pretty ubiquitous, it's nice to see something a little different. Handmade beefburgers with a selection of sauces? Yes. Good value? Yes. Decent service? Yes. A clean looking restaurant? Yes.
These things alone make BBQ Express unique in the world of cheap fast food, but it really helped that the food tasted good too. For the sake of impartiality I will say that I might have had a few issues the next day, but I'm hoping hard that it wasn't BBQ Express - I guess I'll confirm that the next time I go, which I think will be very soon.
Tuesday, June 4
At first there isn't much not to like about YJHD. It was cute, fun and oh so pretty. We're talking an FGF of at least 50 here. After a while however I begun to see the film for what it was: insubstantial, with a loose plot hanging on charm, chemistry and a most awesome soundtrack (really - there's only one song I don't really like on it).
And not that it's at all relevant, but (music numbers aside) Deepika really didn't look as droolworthy as she otherwise always does. To be frank she was almost mortal, but I'm just going to put that down to bad make-up. Oh but I do have to give a special mention to the gravity defying single strapped sari blouse though. Purely from an academic perspective of course.
So standard Bollywood then? Well yes; and ultimately it was a film that did suck me in like a cheap drug. But you know what? I'm not even ashamed in admitting that here.
Friday, May 31
At first glance (or at least, taste) there isn't much too spectacular about Qasida. The Turkish food is adequate if a little bland and dry, the novelty private rooms are way too cramped and impractical and Whitechapel is hardly the sexiest of locations. We hedged our bets and shared multiple mixed grills, and as I've already mentioned there wasn't much to write home about. At £15 per head the price was on par if not a little cheap. The place looked okay too, with a simple and clean vibe that made it seem like the food equivalent of an Ikea store.
But where this place lacks in other aspects, it easily knocks it out of the park when it came to service. We were just very well looked after - almost to a point where the constant attention seemed a little imposing. A mini prayer room - eventually to be expanded to a 200 person space - as well as a planned crèche manned by two primary school teachers (which although slightly troubles me in principle is definitely novel) also manage to convey the impression that Qasida is more than just about the food.
But alas food is what makes a restaurant and without that the impact of everything else does drop. Which is a shame because if the kitchen did receive a bit more attention I can see this place becoming a decent solid option for a quick and easy dinner out.
Wednesday, May 29
Sunday, May 26
The first adjectives I think when trying to describe Amena are "class" and "poise". Unlike some of her sistas in society Amena seems to have managed to steer clear of bad manners, bad humour and bad language and as a result we're left with that well mannered and well spoken classic lady type which is oh-so-rare nowadays. This is important to note (and applaud) as it's a very rare quality in an age where loudness and vulgarity seem to acceptable (and even popular) traits for boys and girls to have.
That's not to say Amena's not a laugh; she just happens to be hilarious in a decent way - and usually all at her own expense. This self-deprecating humility comes not from insecurity but from smarts - but she will also know exactly how to humour her friends without being patronising about it. You're never offended by anything Amena has to say - and even then she's always quick to accept her mistakes and apologise for them. In short there is no shortage of emotional intelligence here.
As the co-creator of the phrase "HBD", she's also a prime example of how we are all responsible for the way we feel and perceive things. I don't think I've ever heard her complain about the cards she's been dealt, again a very unique attitude in a world where it's more normal for us to demand what we're apparently owed. And she can bake, which is always a bonus.
I briefly met Mohiyuddin today, and it was clear from quite early on how much of an all round nice guy he is. Responsible and easy going, he seems to know exactly how to treat the people around him be they new introductions (like us) or old friends or, of course, family. I have no doubt that both will give each other their dues and it's this that makes them such a wonderful couple.
 actually it was I who created this term, but the context of this post doesn't permit me to state that apart from in a footnote.
Saturday, May 25
Some books are harder work than others. For instance, the series I had been reading for the past year (A Song of Ice and Fire) was almost a pleasure to read - not much was missed and it was just easy to absorb; albeit without sacrificing depth or complexity.
Then you have a book like Baudolino, a book that, well, made me feel a little thick. I think I must have only taken in around 70% of the story - there were times when I had no idea where the characters were, or how they got there... or even who they were. And on completion I still don't know where some of the main protagonists came from.
For me the problems came from both the pacing of the book (the friend who loaned me it aptly described it as "meandering") as well as the assumption that the reader understood the politics of thirteenth century Italy and Christendom. I found this lack of connection a little frustrating at first, but after a while I soon warmed to the book and was able to enjoy it despite the holes in my understanding of it.
The book itself (or at least the bits I engaged with) is pretty good. It's essentially a biography of the fictional Baudolino, from childhood all the way to old age, and explores themes of dogma, moral corruption and self justification of obviously bad acts like lying on a grand scale. It's actually a very good lesson on how perception can become reality, and by the end of the book you begin to understand and share the in-joke the author himself is playing on you, the reader - which kind of explains why you have to throw your objectivity out of the window if you want to really enjoy this book. The multiple disparate characters bring tons to the book, and are well laid out in contrast to each other - although they might not be that deep themselves, as a collective they generate bags of characterisation.
Overall though, although I don't have any regrets in reading it, Baudolino was a slog to get through. But although it wasn't completely to my taste it was enjoyable enough and I am sure that others might appreciate even more the journey they share with him.
Wednesday, May 22
Sometimes it's really hard to assess something you've seen. Maybe it's some magic ingredient that's missing or perhaps it's just the mood in which you were when you saw it, but there are times when your head doesn't quite agree with your heart and you don't know why.
Melodrama aside, I'm not exactly sure why I didn't enjoy Into Darkness as much as I should have. I mean it had some great visuals, excellent acting and the plot was good enough (but not amazing). It could have been because I was coming down from watching the amazing Fast 6 (and yes, I have no right to mention that here, but that was a great film).
Thinking about it further I do start forming some conclusions: technically, the pacing was well off; it was almost as if the beginning merged headlong into the climax, and there's something unsatisfying about a payload that gets delivered in that way. But a bigger problem that that was how it just didn't feel like Star Trek; it was all too nice, too easy... too sterile. The ancillary characters were a bit too ancillary, the locations way too incidental and all the reasons why I watching ST so obsessively over the years just weren't there, or at least weren't there enough.
But it is a good film (and chances are I would have been a little more forgiving had I not watched that other one on Monday), and I do recommend it. I guess I just expected a little more from my three-yearly does of Starfleet.
Monday, May 20
Oh my, this was a brilliant film. I won't even attempt to justify that claim by talking about the plot or the acting - if you've seen any previous instalments of the franchise you'll already know where you'll stand when it comes to the film as art.
But in terms of cars, bang and wallop Fast 6 has spades of the stuff. I'm actually struggling to think of a moment where it sat still. It was funny, loud and so, so much fun. Gal Gadot adds tons to the film too.
But that's not even to say this was a mindless popcorn flick - there were so many "Oh my god" moments, so many "Oh, snap!" exclamations, so many coverings of the mouth in awe that I felt like a cheerleader at times. And now it seems I am gushing.
Definitely recommended - and without doubt my film of the year so far.
Saturday, May 18
"Back in the 80s and 90s, if you brought a date to the Hispaniola it would pretty much be a done deal."
Not that it mattered much to me (of course), but this was the tagline that was prescribed to us in the week coming to the birthday party we were to have in this place. Leaving aside the graphic detail (chi chi), the sentiment is sound in theory - what could be more romantic than a meal on an, albeit permanently moored, boat on the Thames?
It certainly was novel, that's for sure. I mean sure, I've lost count of the number of times I've eaten on a boat, but there was something different about this place, this setting. It could have been the Thames, but more likely it was the fact that this was restaurant first and boat second. Perhaps that's why the rocking was so unsettling (and for some of us, nauseating). Buyers beware then, although I suspect it's better on the outside deck where you know you're on the water. I'd also suggest heading out there if you did actually happen to bring a date. It'd pretty much be a done deal.
Due to our party size we went for the set menu which allowed us to pick one, two or three courses (yes, you could just have dessert) from a more-limited-than-usual selection - even more so for the majority of the table, who just happened to be Muslim. It said a lot that almost all of us ordered exactly the same starter (a salmon dish) and main (fish and chips).
Points were scored by the restaurant when they mixed up a fresh batch of ale-free batter, but immediately lost when the salmon starter came without the potato pancakes that were described. The well fought for table salads in compensation didn't save them, but at least the food was good. A good selection of dessert ended a pretty well rounded meal, food wise.
But otherwise service was adequate, and I have to say I quite enjoyed the live piano too - the inevitable happy birthday ditty went way beyond the call of duty.
So yes, a decent enough night out, for a decent enough price - most paid £20 for three courses - and assuming you did actually get what you wanted out of it (wink wink, nudge nudge), that's pretty good value there. For the rest of us who are just going for the food and dining experience, I would say that there are plenty of other options out there for a fancy night out.
Sunday, May 12
You know, I thought I was done with generic Indians. Yes, in my even-less-imaginative-than-I-am-now days, I wouldn't have even thought of going to anywhere else than a curry house for a dinner out, but since discovering that London has so much more to offer than boring yet solid baltis, barring a few exceptions I tend to experience a much wider range of cuisines each month. And yes, full qualification here: I wouldn't have even tried Caraway if I hadn't been given some vouchers to use there.
I'll start with the good. Which is pretty much just the food - it was actually pretty good. The meat was well cooked, the flavours bursting, the mango lassi just about refreshing enough to pass. If food is why you go out to eat, then you won't be disappointed with Caraway. Oh and the place itself was clean and well presented.
However the place does fall short in other aspects; mainly in the customer service department. Having to eat on a clock doesn't really make for a great dining experience, as doesn't the inflexibility around how or when I was able to use my gift voucher. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for rules and discipline, but it doesn't take much to realise that fancy restaurants are actually in the hospitality industry, and in the hospitality industry service means more than food.
The bill came to a total of 70 quid or so which I thought was a bit too much considering what we ordered, but then on the other hand the portions were generous so perhaps we over ordered. But alas at the end of the day Caraway is just another generic Indian, which is actually a bit of a shame as it has the groundings to be so much more.
Saturday, May 11
Here's an arbitrary comic I found funny! Nothing to do with me of course.
I repeat, this has nothing to do with me. I don't even own a hat.
Friday, May 10
It shows how long it's been since I last visited a place when it doesn't appear in my blog. But I have been to Momo's before, which I suppose is a good indication of how memorable it is. The romance starts before you even get there - tucked away in a corner behind Regent's Street, it almost feels like a little secret part of London that only a few know of.
Which of course is silly, particularly after you see how busy it can get there. The occasion today was a long overdue get together with some university mates - a good test to see how amicable and accessible a restaurant can be. Top marks to Momo then, as we found it pretty easy to regress to a bunch of rowdy and loud students sitting around the perfectly sized round table in the corner of the place. I express the detail here because it really is important.
Service had few complaints - perhaps the constant reminders that we had to be out by 9pm or the threat of a fine for a no show while booking left a sour taste in the mouth - but that was soon forgotten once we got the food. I rarely rave about meat but tonight I got to taste some of the most succulent chicken and melt-in-the-mouth lamb I'll have this year.
Cost wise, we had to pay around 25 quid per head (for just the food, excluding drinks) which was of adequate value considering we shared all our dishes. It was a very satisfying night out overall, and perfect for act of rediscovering friendships.
Wednesday, May 1
I'm not sure why, but this is a comic that struck me a little. I'm not even sure I understand it all to be honest.
Perhaps it's the whole anti-capitalism vibe? Or just how it rings with the attitudes I encounter during the more "significant meetings" I have in life? It's interesting how, given a new perspective on things, we realise how much of the stuff we universally take for granted is man-made.
Tuesday, April 30
Even Tony Stark wasn't able to forget last year's The Avengers - it was almost like he was admitting that nothing was going to match up to that juggernaut of a movie. And alas he was correct as this didn't leave that fresh comic book taste as other Marvel films have in recent times. Of course it was fun and had some very cool set pieces... it just wasn't fulfilling enough, something that very could have been because we're all so spoiled now. I do think that the first two were better though.
RDJ was pretty good of course, but otherwise this is one for DVD night.
Wednesday, April 24
Although I've come across many of 1st Ethical's leaflets (mainly in my local mosque) this was the first time I was attending any of their seminars, and I have to say I was pretty impressed. This was in part due to learning about the work that they do, but mainly because of our host this evening, Imam Mohammad Abid Khan. He almost effortlessly led us through the basics of Islam's take on wills and inheritance, giving us a solid understanding of the stuff that will cover most use cases.
I think for me was Imam Khan's ability to engage both the topic and the audience. He managed to talk about the issues on deeper than usual level, both by filling out all the assumptions a typical audience would usually make as well as avoiding the canned reasoning and lip service you'd find elsewhere. That's not to say that the material was overly academic or dry; on the contrary, the real value came from how accessible he made it all.
Of course as usual it was the audience who got in the way of the talk running smoothly, with various digressive questions being thrown in at each slide. I reckon a format with the questions at the end would have allowed Imam Khan to have flowed at a decent pace, but then the interactions did make it more engaging I guess.
So yes, although a lot of what was covered was basic I certainly left the talk feeling empowered. I'd definitely be interested in attending a 1st Ethical seminar again.
Friday, April 19
Wednesday, April 17
So this is interesting. I first visited Chaudhry's as a guest of a wedding party a few weeks ago and I have to say that I rather enjoyed my visit there back then. The food was good in terms of quality, taste and (most important for a buffet) the variety, and it made enough of an impression to get me to go back with friends in tow.
Except this time the experience was a little off. The food was merely okay, and the range a little stunted, although apparently this was by design as the servers explained how they have a different layout for the weekend. Bummer, but at least that explains the price difference depending on what day you visit.
Today the entry cost £11, which is hardly worth fussing over considering. Drinks were a little extortionate at £9 for a jug of okayish Mango Lassi, and the few desserts were nothing to write home about. On the other hand the place was clean and service more than adequate.
Whether or not you should go depends on what day you're planning to then: definitely avoid Chaudhry's on the weekdays but you might get lucky on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night.
(Part 2, here)
It seems pretty surreal how I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire almost a year to the day (it was actually the 3rd of April when I did), but here I am, finally, at the end of all the books that have been written so far. And I am sad. Sad because there's nothing else to read from the land of Westeros (right now). Sad because the habit I've formed over the past year has abruptly come to an end. And finally, sad because there's only two more books to go. Frankly I'm confused as to how such a classic isn't finished yet. This wasn't the case for Narnia or LOTR.
This latest one (the fifth, just in case you're struggling) is by far the largest yet - which is probably why it had been split into two here in the UK (as I refuse to believe it was to spin money). It isn't actually the best book, but that's not saying much in a series of this calibre. Sure, reading all of them in such quick succession may have spoiled me a little, and if I'm honest I'm not quite sure where one ends and the other begins, but so much was crammed in Dragons that it all felt a little too thinly spread at times.
But still, it's a pivotal book in the Ice and Fire saga and therefore by implication a must read. Totally recommended. And now we wait for number six.
Tuesday, April 9
Now here's a little gem, apparently known to all but me. Kind of like Waga's but with Thai food, and so much better, I'm left wondering why I haven't checked it out before.
Good food, dodgy square tables (really, what are they thinking?) and a decent bill of £16.50 per head including drinks makes Busaba interesting enough to have found its way into my list of staple places to go to when you can't be bothered to find anywhere new to check out.
Friday, April 5
Now I'm pretty sure I've been to this place before - being only a few doors down from the seminal Guanabana, it would have served as a solid alternative at least once in the past few years. Either way, there's no reference on my blog so tonight gave me the opportunity to correct that oversight.
Pan Asian is a vague and ambiguous term. I would probably say the food was mainly Korean, with some fusion of the adjoining countries chucked in. Then again I generally don't really care about the origins of the tastes I'm experiencing - wherever this stuff comes from it was quite good.
The starters more so than the mains - the chicken wings were sublime, the tofu excellent. The mains weren't too bad either, myself going for the soft bun sandwiches... but if I do go again I will probably just stick with more starters.
The bill came to £22 per head even after we skipped dessert. I found this to be pretty pricey considering the overall experience, and that is a bit of a shame. Still, if we follow the trick of sticking to starters then this could turn out to be much more of a classic place to eat.
Thursday, April 4
Saturday, March 30
Friday, March 22
It goes to show how limitless the food options in London are when I get to check out yet another unvisited hotel restaurant. One08 is the name (clever, as it sits at 108 Marylebone Lane), with The Marylebone Hotel being the enclosure this time around.
The place was dark (in a good way) and intimate, with us getting a perfectly sized round table for five. For the Muslim there weren't many options on the already limited menu; between us we exhausted the starter options and we had to ask the chef to adapt the beer battered fish and chips; they were happy to do this and the grilled version of the dish wasn't too bad.
We were using a Top Table offer to get 50% off our food bill, and it all came to around £16 a head which was fair enough value, but not so much had we paid full whack. On this basis the place gets a recommendation I suppose, but if you have to book a place then you're better off going elsewhere.
But in this instance the story doesn't quite end there. After pointing out a piece of bacon that was found in one of our otherwise vegetarian salads, we were well looked after when it came to paying the bill. It's probably bad form to say exactly how we were made to feel better, but they did pull out the stops to do so and that very quickly. It's not the kind of service I'm used to seeing, and although it could be argued that it shouldn't have happened in the first place it's impressive that they made the effort to correct their mistake - enough at least for me to note it here and send a thank you email afterwards.